Former Swiss Guard Reflects On Canonization of Pope John Paul II

HYATTSVILLE, Md. (WUSA9) -- Andreas Widmer, who now calls Hyattsville home, was a member of the Swiss Guard. His job was to protect Pope John Paul II during the 1980's. Think of him as the Vatican's equivalent to the US Secret Service agent.

Widmer will be at Sunday's service in St. Peter's Square when John Paul II is canonized.

"I owe him a lot," says Widmer in between packing his suitcases for Rome. "This man single handedly turned my life around."

Widmer entered the Swiss Guard at the age of 20. He admits he was a lost soul. Pope John Paul II, says Widmer, helped him through example.

"This man was so grounded. With the ups and downs, and the struggles and the triumphs."

By the time Karol Wojtyla was twenty, he had lost his entire family. Hitler invaded his native Poland and the future pontiff was forced to work in a stone quarry to escape deportation and imprisonment. He had to study the faith in an underground seminary.

"You know there is a difference between happiness and joy. Joy is deeper. Joy is something I can't take away. I can take away your happiness by putting you in miserable circumstances, he had joy," says Widmer of Pope John Paul II. "And just a profound contentment and happiness about him. This is what attracted me to him. I thought whatever this guy has, this is what I want."

Widmer says the Pope would leave the Papal Palace to visit his Swiss Guards in their barracks. To share a beer and learn about their lives.

"He would always say, 'I can't wait to see all the great things you are going to do in your life. You are made for greatness And I am so excited to see what you are going to do.' And I thought huh? I didn't have this much faith in me. But he had more faith in me which then lead me to have faith in myself."

A faith that helped Widmer find his strengths and ultimately, leaving the Swiss Guard.

"He first said, 'What is going on? What am I not treating you well?' I sad no you are treating me well. But I said, I am not getting any younger. And of course that is all he needed to hear. 'How old are you?' And I said 22 and he of course laughed and said, 'I understand what you are saying.' And he blessed me and he said, 'You found your faith, here now, go out and share it with others.'"

Today Widmer teaches at Catholic University. He says he cannot think of a better way to share his faith and the stories he has about his "old friend," John Paul II, than with young people. Widmer is also a business executive, speaker, and author of the book The Pope and The CEO. He is also a husband and father.


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